Charleston Newspapers again asks for more time

By Steve Korris | Dec 10, 2009

CHARLESTON – Like a reporter begging an editor over and over for a little more time to finish a story, Charleston's daily newspapers once again ask U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver for a little more time to settle a federal antitrust suit.

The dailies and the government jointly moved on Dec. 7 to extend for 30 days a stay of proceedings that would have expired the next day.

Lawyers who had obtained a series of 21 day extensions since March stretched it to 30 days this time, "so that the stay will not expire during the holidays, when seeking a further extension, if necessary, might be administratively difficult."

The government sued in 2007, claiming Daily Gazette owners violated the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts when they bought the Daily Mail from Media News Group.

The dailies had operated as equal partners with separate owners since 1958.

In 1969, the U. S. Supreme Court held that a similar joint operation in Tucson, Arizona, violated the Sherman and Clayton acts.

In 1970, Congress passed the Newspaper Preservation Act exempting joint operations from antitrust law.

In 1998, the Gazette and Media News Group adopted an amendment allowing the Gazette to match any third party offer to buy the Daily Mail.

Media News Group received a $55 million offer, and in 2004 the Gazette matched it.

The Daily Mail quit publishing on Saturdays and didn't replace reporters who left.

All its promotions, discounts, and solicitations of new readers ended.

Daily delivery stopped for thousands of customers.

In less than a year, according to the government, Daily Mail circulation fell from 35,076 to 23,985.

As talks continue, no one knows whether the joint operating agreement exists.

The government insists it ended when the Gazette bought the Daily Mail, and the Gazette insists it didn't end.

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